Movie Review: Pet Sematary

As a longtime Stephen King fan, I was really looking forward to seeing the Pet Sematary remake when it hit theaters last week. I adored the first one, and after the colossal success of 2017’s It, I was hoping for a repeat. Although I think this remake is a good film on its own, I can’t say it equaled or surpassed the original for the following reasons:

  1. Acting – Nobody did a bad job in this movie. That being said, no one did a particularly outstanding job compared to the original. Frankly, this version was rather lacking in emotional texture. Jason Clarke (who The Husband and I agree has an unfortunate resemblance to a young Robert Englund) played this version of Louis Gage rather colder than the original version. I didn’t get the sense that he was teetering on the verge of insanity from loss as I did during the original. Amy Seimetz as Rachel also seemed too grounded compared to the original. Although the flashbacks with Zelda were back-crackingly eerie, I didn’t get the sense of near-hysteria from her that I did from the original Rachel’s monologue. Also, her instant rejection of her resurrected daughter didn’t tug at the heartstrings the way her original response to Gage did. That moment when a grieving Rachel thinks she’s getting her baby back are the most emotionally wrenching in the movie. John Lithgow had the hardest shoes to fill, having been preceded by the impressive Fred Gwynne. Lithgow was fine, but he didn’t reach the same level of backwoods wise man gravitas (if that’s a thing) that Gwynne did. I must confess, I was also very fond of Gwynne’s Maine accent.
  2. Plot Twist – I don’t see the point of this version’s biggest plot twist, which is Ellie getting killed by the truck instead of Gage. Dead children are creepy, but there’s something extra chilling about a dead toddler that is still learning to speak in complete sentences. They used Ellie to speak more lines from the book from other characters, but I don’t think they were particularly necessary, especially since they were absent from the original. It’s dangerous to give too many lines to a monster, lest you spoil the mystique. If I hadn’t seen the original movie or read the book, I would probably have been fine with this, though.
  3. Pieces I Missed – I’m not happy that they cut several of my favorite pieces from this movie. The Timmy Baterman story was reduced to a small line in an old newspaper, where the original was absolutely terrifying. They also took out my favorite line from Fred Gwynne: “Death is where the pain ends and the good memories begin.” Rachel’s original monologue about Zelda was better too, touching as it did on survival guilt.
  4. Speed – This version of the story is much faster paced than the original, especially Rachel’s race against time to reach Louis after he stops responding to phone calls. Also, the resurrections sped up, particularly at the end when Rachel surprises Louis with a blade in the back. (Maybe I’m being nitpicky, but it seems to me that a proper resurrection story should take at least a night of work. It just seems a little too convenient that she was up and at ’em just like that.)
  5. Special Effects – No complaints here. These were all excellent. The sequences with Zelda roaming the walls of the house were a perfect example of how fear sound can sometimes be worse than fear sight. Zombie Ellie’s weird eye was a nice touch, as were the staples in the back of her head.

Overall impression – I think that this movie is much more competent than most remakes (especially horror), but it’s just too smooth to be as effective. Pet Sematary is a messy story, and it deserves a properly gritty movie adaptation.

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